Most types of chemotherapy cannot cure liver cancer, but combining chemotherapy and other drugs may help shrink liver tumors. Some approaches may help a person live longer.

Chemotherapy can be a treatment for liver cancer. A medical professional will deliver the drugs into a person’s blood vessels to stop cancer from growing. In some cases, they may deliver them directly into the artery that supplies the liver with blood.

This article discusses whether chemotherapy can cure liver cancer, the likely outcomes, and the support available for people with liver cancer.

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Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells. It can kill cancer cells, but it cannot cure liver cancer. Advanced liver cancer, in particular, is hard to treat and not curable.

Research from 2021 indicated that a combination of medications might be more helpful than a single chemotherapy drug. However, there is no guarantee that they will work or extend a person’s life.

Many cases of liver cancer are not curable. This is because symptoms often do not appear until the cancer advances, when it is hard to treat.

A doctor may recommend surgery or a transplant to treat early-stage liver cancer. Removing the tumor this way may remove all traces of cancer.

However, these approaches are ineffective when cancer spreads to other body parts. Instead, a doctor might recommend chemotherapy.

A person with liver cancer can have chemotherapy in two different ways:

In systemic chemotherapy, a medical professional delivers the drugs into a vein, for example, in the arm. The drugs travel around a person’s body to kill cancer cells in areas beyond the liver.

In regional chemotherapy, they deliver drugs into an artery that leads to the body part with a tumor.

Hepatic artery infusion (HAI) is a type of regional therapy. In HAI, a doctor delivers drugs directly into the hepatic artery. Studies suggest HAI may be effective at shrinking tumors.

Most chemotherapy treatments cannot cure liver cancer, but recent advances demonstrate that combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs may slow tumor growth significantly and help a person live longer.

Learn more about advanced-stage liver cancer.

A doctor may recommend chemotherapy and other treatments for liver cancer to get the following outcomes:

  • Cure: A doctor may try to destroy the cancer so that it does not return. Chemotherapy with ablation therapy may offer an alternative curative treatment to surgery because it destroys liver tumors without removing them. However, it is less likely to cure liver cancer.
  • Management: A doctor may use chemotherapy, which can help manage cancer by shrinking tumors and stopping cells from growing and spreading. It can slow the progress of cancer and improve a person’s quality of life.
  • Palliative care: In the later stages, a doctor may use chemotherapy to ease symptoms, such as shrinking a tumor that is causing pain or pressure.

Various organizations can support a person living with liver cancer.

Here are some options:

Here are some frequently asked questions about treatment for liver cancer:

How long can you live with liver cancer?

The relative 5-year survival rate for liver cancer is 21%. This means a person has a 21% chance of living another 5 years or longer following a liver cancer diagnosis compared with people without the disease.

If a person receives a diagnosis in the earliest stage before cancer spreads, this figure is 30%, but if cancer spreads to distant body parts, the chance of living another 5 years is only 3%.

However, the outlook for liver cancer depends on many factors, including:

  • the type of treatment used
  • how the tumor responds to treatment
  • a person’s age and overall health

What is the survival rate after a liver transplant?

Can liver cancer be cured completely?

If a person with liver cancer receives a diagnosis at an early stage, a complete cure may be possible through:

  • Resection surgery: This involves removing the affected section of the liver.
  • Liver transplant: This involves removing the liver and replacing it with a healthy one.
  • Ablation therapy: This involves using heat to destroy cancer cells.

Once liver cancer starts spreading to other body parts, a cure is usually unlikely.

What is the best treatment for liver cancer?

The best treatment for liver cancer will depend on the individual and the cancer stage at diagnosis.

Surgical resection or a liver transplant can have good outcomes. However, this is because these options are only available when cancer is in the early stages, when it is still possible to remove it.

Doctors do not consider chemotherapy a cure for liver cancer, but it can destroy cancer cells, shrink a tumor, and slow tumor growth.

Chemotherapy is not always effective for liver cancer. However, new approaches — such as a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy — may shrink tumors and stop tumor growth in 80% of people with liver cancer. This approach may also help a person live longer.

A surgery or a transplant is the only approach that can completely remove a tumor. A person with an early diagnosis may have a good outcome if they can have one of these treatments.